Thomas Netter on Wycliffite Adoration of the Bible as Book

found this via Margaret Aston. Lollards and Reformers: Images and Literacy in Late Medieval Religion (Hambledon Press, 1984), 110, who summarizes some of this passage like so:

there was a certain inconstancy among the heretics for thus ‘venerating, kissing, and saluting the Gospel, revering the very manuscript’, while simultaneously claiming that living tress were more worshipful than carved imaged. By the same token should not the care they bestowed on their texts, protecting them from dirty hands and drops of rain, more logically be bestowed on living creatures — sheep (rather than dead vellum), dogs, or flies?

from Thomas Netter, Doctrinale Antiquitatum Fidei Catholicae Ecclesiae, ed. B. Blanciotti (Venice, 1757-59), iii, col. 94, available from Google Books (but oddly not, here.

Also note “I with all the faithful worship the dead Christ and despise the living Jews” for yet more evidence of the centrality of antisemitism to late medieval Christianity.


Our Mutual Friend

If you’ve read it, you know that the ending runs counter to the whole theme of the universal infection caused by money. Dickens gets his liberal umbrage and his liberal cake. I’m sure Eagleton et al. have done this to death, so there’s no compulsion to repeat. Let me just comment on Riah, via this complaining nineteenth-century note, a wonderful symptom of the medievalism (Isaac of York! Hugh of Lincoln) at the heart of ‘Englishness’ of this period and indeed the present day (looking at you Morrisey)

The Jew.
Mr. Forster says “the benevolent old Jew, the unconscious agent of a rascal, was meant to wipe out a reproach against his Jew in Oliver Twist, as bringing dislike upon the religion he belonged to.” Dickens had written to a remonstrating Hebrew lady, “Surely no sensible man or woman of your persuasion can fail to observe, firstly, that all the rest of the wicked dramatis personae are Christians; and secondly, that he is called ‘the Jew,’ not because of his religion, but because of his race.” That scarcely comforted the Hebrew lady, perhaps; but “no sensible man or woman” should be so sensitive. Riah scarcely obliterates Fagin, and, when he talks of “the damsel,” he relapses into the style of Isaac of York. “To every man a damsel or twain.” The modern Semite, however benevolent, does not affect the phraseology of the Authorised Version of the Old Testament [Comment from Karl: !!! the ‘Jewishness’ of the font of modern English prose!]. Friendly and appreciative renderings of Jews have never been quite successful in our fiction, and Riah is at least as agreeable as Kingsley’s Raphael, or George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda. Perhaps Sidonia, in Codlingsby, is the most réussi. All this is the sheer result of Hugh of Lincoln, and literary tradition, and secular prejudice, which hampers the author who is trying to overcome it. Would Riah, in real life, have turned the national “Goddam” into “they curse me in Jehovah’s name”? Would he “draw folding tablets from his breast,” or take a pocket-book out of his pocket?

No doubt Dickens scholarship has done this character equally to death; but perhaps not?

A handy epigraph for my paper in St. Erkenwald (look for it in some journal somewhere in about 2013), here:

when Riah, who had been sitting on some dark steps in a corner over against the house, arose and went his patient way; stealing through the streets in his ancient dress, like the ghost of a departed Time.

Do read this with The Typological Imaginary.

Flash Review: Jonathan Elukin, Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages


I hope this study of how Jews lived among Christians has suggested that many of the fundamental characteristics and experiences of convivencia can be seen in non-Spanish settings. Jewish-Christian relations in northern Europe is actually convivencia in a minor key. Seeing the medieval past in this light will perhaps help to eliminate or at least challenge the false dichotomy between the experience of Jews in Spain (and other Mediterranean settings) and of Jews in northern European societies in the Middle Ages. Jews of England, France, Italy, and Germany were deeply integrated into the rhythms of their local worlds. They faced many of the same challenges and uncertainties as their Christian neighbors. They navigated a world of unexpected violence but recurring stability, ad hoc policies of repression and toleration. All of this suggests that Jewish-Christian relations were dynamic and cannot be understood only in terms of persecution. Jewish-Christian interaction in medieval Europe created if not a history of toleration then habits of tolerance. (136-7)

By trying to write as though the Holocaust were not the inevitable future of European Jews, Elukin aims to shift our attention away from lachrymose history to quotidian survival. In the early middle ages, at least, we shouldn’t confuse clerical antijudaism with general attitudes: how much power did Church councils really have, he asks, and what could an antisemitic king do when he could barely hold onto his (Visigothic) throne? Moreover, he argues, violence was not typical for Jews, or, at least, not particular for Jews: in polities without much in the way of infrastructure, standing armies, or police forces, in a public rhetorical tradition devoted not to calm description but to evaluation–praise and blame, violence was endemic. What the Jews suffered was not all that unusual. Violence should be understood as only occasionally afflicting the Jews, who, despite it all, almost always came back to the cities or regions that expelled or massacred them. Sometimes this took a generation, as in the Rhine valley following 1096; sometimes this took centuries, as in England following 1290. But it always happened. Elukin implies, in brief, that we should not believe we know better than the Jews: if they thought it was safe to move back, why shouldn’t we?

Elukin’s evidence did shake some of my lachrymose expectations: Jews in early medieval Sicily established a shrine to Elijah on the model of a Christian saint’s shrine; Jews in Rheims offered to bring out their Torah to help break a drought; the Jews of eleventh- and twelfth-century Speyer had to take their turns guarding the town walls; English ‘ritual murder’ shrines were financially unsuccessful; interfaith marriages and Christian conversions to (what we now call) Judaism occurred…every so often. But a brief work that covers this much temporal and geographical territory (from 5th-century Minorca to 17th-century Germany) must necessarily skim (see for example Michael Toch’s review of Elukin in The Catholic Historical Review); its reception of Gregory of Tours and other historical narratives takes as straight fact what should be taken as discursive fact (and here Elukin could have looked to the model of Daniel Boyarin’s thinking with Marc Bloch and Foucault, either here or here or here or indeed here); its conception of two clear groups called “Jew” and “Christian” could have worked more with Ivan Marcus and Israel Yuvel. Ultimately, I’m unconvinced by the rosier picture Elukin promotes. Rhetoric against heretics or peasants or women could get nasty, yes, and violence against Jews should be understood within the larger context of a Christian and exploitative and masculinist society whose objective violence is all too clear to we paranoid modern critics. But surely the repeated massacres, judicial murders, and expulsions of Jews from the late eleventh century on, and the centrality of antijudaism to, say, the development of Mariolotry (warning: pdf) suggests that Jews were a special object of hatred for medieval Christians. We may be back where we started.

Not quite, I hope: with Elukin in hand, we should read more carefully, read in the heterogeneous present of medieval Jews without having their future, our present, so clearly in mind. We read with a hope at once retroactive and future-oriented, knowing that what we think of as the past tied singly to the future could have gone another way and indeed went other ways in its own present, where we have York 1190 but also the York before that, where Jews made a community among Christians, where I imagine not every Jew and not every Christian was recognizable, primarily, as such. In a society in which Jews hired Christian nursemaids, we have to rethink the primacy of religious divisions.

That said, that Jews returned to their various particular homelands–England, France, Germany–and that they therefore did not feel themselves to be in danger does not mean that they were not in danger. We can see patterns they couldn’t. Yes, Jews held on to Spain even after 1391; they moved back to the Rhine valley after 1096; they petitioned to return to England in 1320. These were mistakes. I think Elukin takes Jews as rational actors. But people aren’t rational, or not only rational. Or, better, home and habits have reasons of their own. A comparison, mutatis mutandis to avoid any sense that I’m blaming the Jews for what they suffered: in 2010, in this time of climate change, Americans continue hyperconsuming. There’s no indication that this will stop. This doesn’t mean I’m not in danger (nor does it mean, once more, that systemic antisemitism and antisemites are identical to climate). It just means that, like people generally, I’m insufficiently pessimistic, unable to do what I should to abandon my home, my habits, and therefore myself, though I need to if I’m ever going to escape this coming doom.

Rituals of Childhood: Jewish Acculturation in Medieval Europe, Ivan Marcus

2519416Through “historical anthropology” Rituals of Childhood traces the development of a rite of passage for Jewish boys, the school initiation ceremony, from its origins in premedieval mnemonic memory practices to its gradual replacement in the late Middle Ages and early modern period by the Bar Mitzvah. The school initiation ceremony runs as follows: at age five or six, either on his birthday or on the day of Sahvuot (which commemorates the bestowal of the Torah), the child is wrapped in a cloak (so that he might not see a dog, pig, or Christian, or be seen in turn by them, and also perhaps [as is hinted at in Gregory of Tours’ anecdote about Nicetus of Lyon:] so that he might not sexually excite his father) and taken to a Rabbi; the Rabbi produces an alphabet tablet and begins preliminary literacy training; then the Rabbi covers the tablet with honey, which the boy licks off; then the boy eats a hard-boiled egg and a pie, each of which is inscribed with verses pertaining to Sahvuot and to warding off POTAH, the prince of forgetfulness; then the boy is taken to a river and then back home. The constituent portions of this ceremony are not autochthonic ally Jewish. Rather, as Marcus argues, they developed in conversation with Christianity. Sahvuot is an analog of Pentecost, for example, and the gradual disappearance of the school initiation ceremony corresponds to the gradual disappearance of monastic oblation among the Christians.

I would have liked to have seen more attention to the modus vivens of the Ashekenaz, as otherwise Marcus’s “historical anthropology” remains too textual. He especially needed, however, to examine gender more closely: the ceremony sees the boy taken from its mother and given over to a community of men. What is the significance of gender in twelfth-century Ashkenaz? What is the shared significance of gender among the Christians and Jews? Marcus speaks (briefly) about “Moses as Madonna” and the Torah’s substitution for the mother’s lactating breast, both of which could be contextualized through the piety of “Jesus as Mother,” which emerged at the same time as the school initiation ceremony. Furthermore, certain historical claims about the antiquity of Jewish practices (see 83 for example) need revision in light of Daniel Boyarin’s work on the muddled distinctions of early Christians and Jews from the first to fourth centuries: what appears to be an early polemic might, rather, be a shared ceremony.

Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, Daniel Boyarin

517943“Earlier Christian groups (including, or even especially, the Johannine one) distinguished themselves from non-Christian Jews not theologically, but only in their association of various Jewish theologoumena and mythologoumena with this particular Jew, Jesus of Nazarth. The characteristic move that constructs what will become orthodox Christianity is, I think, the combination of Jewish messianic soteriology with equally Jewish Logos theology in the figure of Jesus.”

“The vanquishing of real religious dissent in Israel and the safe haven of power and privilege which the Rabbis had achieved by the fifth century enabled a portrayal of themselves as the ultimate democrats and meritocrats. All who would once have produced real dissension were now firmly out of the community, so within: Let pluralism ring!”

Boyarin locates two key moments in the development of what we now call Christianity and Judaism: the second century, when thinkers in both camps developed the notion of heresy, and the late antique development of the Babylonian Talmud, which cemented the Rabbinical character of “Judaism,” which, in contradistinction to Christianity, cherished endless disputation and dissensus, and disdained miracles and revelation; at the same time, Christians developed the notion of religion, a belief system disembedded from cultural practice (and, on this point, his diachronic philological analysis of “superstitio” vs. “religio” in the antique world works perfectly) and founded on revelation and miracles and on the unity of the “Fathers” (invented in the fifth century). Notably, there is no record of the disputations of Nicea.

The worst heretics for each camp were those who occupied the middle; each camp created itself as such, in fact, by defining itself against a pure conception of the other. This process of self-definition through othering is of course very familiar to anyone cognizant with postmodern philosophy; so too are the continual exclusions through which identity establishes itself. This is as true for the newly born Christians as Nicea as it is for the newly born Jews in the Babylonian Talmud: neither side is innocent, neither side is pure.

Along the way, Boyarin demonstrates the first- and second-century muddling of “Jew” and “Christian” through analysis of Logos theology, the notion of a second, distinct hypostasis of God (ditheism, more or less). This was a belief many “Jews” and “Christians” shared; and, as well, one that many did NOT share. The lines can be drawn, then, between those who believed in some form of the Logos (some of whom believed in the particular form of the Logos known as Jesus) and those that did not. Boyarin thus manages to save Logos Jews from accusations of being Hellenized: there is a non-Hellenic tradition of the incarnate Logos (Memra, Sophia, Metatron, Yahoel) that’s picked up by Philo and as well by the opening to the Gospel of John, which Boyarin reads as a Midrash on the opening of Genesis. He also demonstrates that “both” “sides” ultimately do away with the Logos, the Rabbis by dissolving revelation in favor of disputation, and the Bishops by firming up the mysterious singularity of the Trinity, swallowing up the distinct Logos within a triune but still fundamentally singular God.

I’d give this 5 stars if it were more efficiently written. Boyarin repeats himself frequently; his paragraphs tend to be muddled, with key points buried in the middle and then raised again several pages later; he often engages with secondary sources in the body text rather than in the footnotes, where such disputes rightly belong. My dream version of this book would be about 50 pages shorter, with footnotes (not endnotes) about 50 percent longer. This would reduce the body text to about 100 pages, which would save the book from reading like a crazy quilt looks.

Happy Easter, Everyone?

peeps sederNot an uncommon story: I was raised Christian, and woke up one day in my teens to discover myself an atheist. Since then, I’ve been indifferent to Easter, happy or otherwise.

In my Brooklyn neighborhood, largely Muslim and Jewish, I feel as though I ought to hear ‘Happy Easter!’ with something more than indifference. Dutifully, I turned to my google desktop search (search keys: Easter + Jews) and turned up my notes on Solomon Grayzel’s Church and the Jews in the XIIIth Century. Here I found material on the 1284 Synodus Nemausensis (Synod of Nîmes), which the Wikipedia, using the century-old 11th ed. of the Encyclopedia Britannica, declares to be “of little historical importance”, and which the Jewish Virtual Library characterizes as decreeing “severe measures against the Jews.” Such significant priorities!

Key, ‘historically unimportant’ text:

Only bishops may ordain penances for forbidden acts of sexual intercourse, including that with nuns, virgins, Jewesses, Muslim women, or brute animals. Furthermore, Jews must wear a rose on their breasts. They may not appear in public during the Easter season, nor are they to consume meat in public during Lent. Christians must refrain from eating unleavened bread at Passover, living in Jewish homes, frequenting public baths in Jewish company, or receiving medicines from Jewish physicians” (254-55).

A depressing record of antisemitism, certainly, but with (at least) two possibilities of something more hopeful:

  • First, that per the Jewish Virtual Library, “the bishop of Nîmes, who had authority over the Jews of the town, was nevertheless able to protect them [for a time], even from King Philip IV the Fair who had ordered the imprisonment of several Jews.” Which bishop that was, I haven’t bothered yet to learn: but his protection, even here in one of the nodes of promulgation for doctrinal antisemitism, should be admired and praised, even as we righteously recall Christianity’s own ongoing lachrymose history of intolerance.
  • Second, the Synod’s decree may be understood as unnecessary: were Christians and Jews really that close? Is the law just an attempt to make known, formally, a separation already in place? Is the law just a self-satisfied repetition of Christian practices already followed? Maybe, yet it may well be a record that Christians and Jews were in fact living in each other’s houses; that Christians were joining with Jews to celebrate Passover; that they did this without, however, either Christians or Jews ceasing to be Christians and Jews, and that this therefore might have been a heterotopia. Please reread the last paragraph of Jeffrey’s post with this possibility in mind.

Imagining such meals, I am more than happy to acknowledge an offered ‘Happy Easter,’ or, for that matter, a ‘Happy Passover.’ Do enjoy your holidays, whatever, wherever, and whenever they are.

(photo from here, itself reprinted from the 3rd of the Washington Post’s ongoing peeps contest)

Briefly Noted: The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals

4161743913_ac55ece3c9There’s excitement a-cloven-foot for the Ann Vendermeer and Jeff Vandermeer’s forthcoming Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals.

The Manticore? Not kosher. Kosher? The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, which we all know from Mandeville:

and þare growez a maner of fruyte grete as gourdes; and, when it es rype, þai open it and fyndez þerin a beste with flesch and blude and bane, and it es lyke to a lytill lambe withouten wolle. And men of þat cuntree etez þat beste, and þe fruyt also. And þat es a grete meruaile. 3. Of þat frute I haue eten. Neuerþeles I said þam þat me thoght it na grete meruaile, for in my cuntree I said þam ware treesse berand a fruyte þat becommez briddez flyand, þe whilk men callez Bernakes, and þer es gude mete of þam; and þase þat fallez in þe water liffez and fliez furth, and þase þat fallez on þe land dyez. And, when I had talde þam þis, þai meruailed þam gretely þeroff.

And there grows a kind of fruit great as gourds, and when it is ripe, they open it and find in it a beast with flesh and blood and bone, and it is like a little lamb without wool. And the men of that country eat that beast, and the fruit also. And that is a great marvel. Of that fruit I have eaten. Nevertheless I said to them that I thought it was not a great marvel, for in my country, I said, there were trees bearing a fruit that becomes a flying bird, which men call Barnacles, and the meat is good; and those that fall into the water live and fly forth, and those that fall on the land die. And when I told them this, they marveled greatly about it.

I’m a fan of eschatological Leviathan promises, myself. Leviathan is “a delicacy to be served to the pious at the end of time, to compensate them for the privations which abstaining from the unclean fowls imposed upon them,” as the “real purpose” of Leviathan

“is to be served up as a dainty to the pious in the world to come. The female was put into brine as soon as she was killed, to be preserved against the time when her flesh will be needed. The male is destined to offer a delectable sight to all beholders before he is consumed. When his last hour arrives, God will summon the angels to enter into combat with the monster. But no sooner will leviathan cast his glance at them than they will flee in fear and dismay from the field of battle. They will return to the charge with swords, but in vain, for his scales can turn back steel like straw. They will be equally unsuccessful when they attempt to kill him by throwing darts and slinging stones; such missiles will rebound without leaving the least impression on his body. Disheartened, the angels will give up the combat, and God will command leviathan and behemot to enter into a duel with each other. The issue will be that both will drop dead, behemot slaughtered by a blow of leviathan’s fins, and leviathan killed by a lash of behemot’s tail.”

Ultimately, though, I’m a bit sad that the book has to be about eating and slaughter, and I’m reminded of nothing so much as Hildegard of Bingen’s Physica, which catalogs animals and then, like a good dietetic manual, concludes each entry by remarking on their edibility.

(thanks Marty Shichtman for the heads up on the Kosher Guide! Manticore image from here: